Ortha nan Gaidheal


THE marking of the lambs is done on Thursday, being St Columba's Day. Upon no account would the people mark their lambs on Friday, or in any manner draw blood on that day. Nor till lately would they use iron in any form on Friday.

A blacksmith in Benbecula, a Protestant, an excellent man and an admirable tradesman, never opened his smithy on Friday. He maintained that 'that was the least he could do to honour his Master.'

When the lambs are marked, the people collect the bits taken out of their ears, and carefully bury them beyond the reach of beast or bird. They say that a plant, which they call 'gearradh-chluasach,' literally ear-cuts, ear-clips, grows from them. This plant is generally found growing where a carcase has been buried, and when ripe, it is cut, tied up in a bunch, and suspended from the 'casan ceanghail,' couple above the door of the lamb-cot, and dedicated to

'Moire mhin-gheal nan grasa buan,
Air shealbh chaorach air ghaol uan.'

The fair-white Mary of lasting graces,
For luck of sheep and love of lambs.

The marks made on the ears of sheep and lambs are varied and descriptive in name, as :- ' bart,' ' beum,' ' cluigean,' ' cliopan,' 'cliopadh,' 'crocan,' 'corran,' 'duile,' 'meaghlan,' 'meangan,' 'sgolta,' 'slios,' 'snathad,' 'sulag,' 'toll.' These marks and their modifications are said to number over 250 in the island of Benbecula, in the island of North Uist over 480, and in the island of South Uist over 500. The people know all these marks and modifications at a glance.

When a man marries, it is considered a good omen of the union when the marks on his own sheep and those on the sheep brought him by his wife are nearly alike, and the necessary change easily effected.

Na lom mo cheann,
'S na loisg mo chnamhan.'

Do not clip my head,
And do not burn my bones.

The small native sheep have a long tuft of wool called 'sguman' coming down the face. They are hardy, picturesque little animals, almost wholly free from the innumerable diseases which the larger but softer breeds of sheep have brought in their train. The sheep is regarded with a veneration which is not extended to the cow or other animals.

Niall MacFhionnlaigh, A' Chiste Ghàidhlig, a chuir na teacsaichean seo gu léir bho Carmina Gadelica air an làrach-lìn aig Sabhal Mór Ostaig ann an 1995
2001-04-09 CPD